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In-depth: Web series, original programmes and the new-age digital audience

As the taste and demands of the new-age viewer changes, content providers are exploring new ways to deliver original programmes specific to the digital audiences. speaks to the players to understand the dynamics of such content, advertiser interests and much more

The web series genre has been around for a while now. Its journey began in October 2014 when The Viral Fever (TVF) launched ‘Permanent Roommates’, a show that resonated with ‘millennials’ and was something that television couldn’t provide.

Having set this trend back then, the over-the-top (OTT) space today has grown beyond TVF. Broadcasters have introduced their digital arms, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video entered the Indian market last year and in the last one year, suddenly everybody has started making ‘original series’ or exclusive content for the digital native audience.

The platforms realised that if they need to attract the millennials, then they need to have content that resonates with them. spoke to OTT players to understand the importance of having an original series, regional original programming, advertiser interests, difference between a television show and a film, the production processes and much more.

Importance of original programming

Nachiket Pantvaidya

ALTBalaji was launched nearly a month back with only original programmes and a sourced library of movies. Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, ALTBalaji, stressed the importance of original programming. He said, “We are a subscriber service and our motto is to provide original and exclusive content to the user. We will give you great storytelling that will compel you to come to our platform and watch our content.”

The biggest challenge for an OTT player is to form a habit for the consumer. Another challenge is to provide content that is between Hindi general entertainment channels (GEC) and western content. The Indian youth will resonate with such content and providers are trying to do that all the time.

Monika Shergill

Monika Shergill, Head Content, Viacom18 Digital Ventures, agrees. For Shergill, the content has to resonate with the mobile first audience. If that doesn’t happen, the platform will not get the desired eyeballs.

Uday Sodhi

Uday Sodhi, EVP and Head, Digital Business, Sony Pictures Network, says original web series allow them to complete their offering to the user. “We are able to create content specific for a niche audience, which helps us widen our consumer and advertiser base and grow the entire ecosystem,” he added.

The consumer now has a lot of options when it comes to binge watching original series. Indian players such as Hotstar, Arre, ALTBalaji, Voot and many more now have a huge amount of content for each type of audience.


Regional original web series

There have also been experiments in the South market with original web series. Vuclip has a few original web series when it comes to the market, particularly in Telugu. ALTBalaji will soon launch a Tamil original series, SonyLiv last week launched a Gujarati web series called Kacho Papad Pako Papad. SonyLiv had also launched a Marathi web series, ‘YOLO’, earlier in January this year.

Different players are trying to carve out a niche in different markets. In order to cater to audiences across India, Pantvaidya believes in doing regional languages rather than Hindi. He said, “We are doing Bengali and will do Gujarati and Punjabi soon. 75 per cent of our content will be Hindi and 25 per cent will be non-Hindi.”

Advertisers’ interests

How do advertisers make deals with OTT players?

Shergill explained, “All platforms in the space are on an investment mode right now. Advertisers have shown a high interest. There are opportunities for sponsoring an entire show, like we had in ‘Untag’ where Moto Z was the title sponsor.”

Ajay Chacko

Ajay Chacko, Co-Founder and CEO, Arre, corroborates with this thought. He said, “Advertisers, both traditional and new-age, are welcoming of content as a route to marketing. Brands are evaluating a balance between performance and impact when planning their media spends. There is cognisance of the fact that pre-rolls/ ads can be skipped or blocked or muted when pushed down user's timelines and feeds, but content is what consumers actively seek out and hence, more effective or impactful.”

The advertiser response for Arre’s web series has been quite well. They have a range of advertisers on board for all their shows, from P&G (Gillette) to Nissan to One Plus to Kingfisher to Dell to Godrej and a global company like Palo Alto Networks.

But while Arre has advertisers for their shows, SonyLiv has advertisers on their platform. They have an inventory of advertisers on their platform and not show-wise.

Vishal Maheshwari

Vishal Maheshwari, Country Manager, Vuclip India, explained, “The advertising that is conventionally done and accepted is pre-roll and inventory based. What’s getting the ad attracted is the ability of the platform to be able to integrate the advertiser as a part of the content – if they happen at a native level, post production level or if it happens at an integrated story line level.”

Production and content quality and costs

All the players agree that the production and content quality is equal to what one sees on television. One cannot compromise on quality. The production process is more or less the same for web series. However, the storylines and themes on the web are more in tune with the current mindset of younger audiences.

The costs of producing each web series may vary. It depends on the story. If a web series demands spends like that of ‘Bahubali 2’ then they must be incurred. If one were to compare it to a television show, then at an episodic level, the costs may be a little higher than television, say most of the players.

Duration of a web series

The duration of a web series is entirely dependent upon the story, the plot and the content. The objective is to always hold the viewer's attention until the end of the episode. According to Shergill, an ideal time for a web series is about 20 minutes, but if the story is compelling enough then it can exceed a little beyond it.

Another reason for the duration to be shorter or lesser than 35 minutes, according to Pantvaidya, is the fact that the audience is mobile-first. There isn’t an hour when someone doesn’t call you or texts you. The millennial is constantly switching between apps, attention spans are low, and hence the short format works quite well.

Treatment of a web series versus a TV show or a film

Shergill said, “All three are different platforms. Essentially, the production process is the same in the sense that you get your concept in place, put your cast together and you produce it. But in terms of the duration and the format of storytelling, TV shows thrive on the long format of daily storytelling. Films have a longer pre-production process. Web series is positioned between the two mediums where storytelling is almost like making small films for a new age audience. The writing is the key in a web series, just as in films.”

Chacko, Sodhi, Maheshwari agree that the treatment is not too different between television and the web in terms of production values and all the basics that go into making a show. Pantvaidya on the other hand believes that web series need to be treated differently.

Marketing a web series versus a television show

Marketing a web series is definitely different than marketing a television show, say most of the players. For a web series, the platform is talking to the digital first audience. There is more target marketing for a web series, unlike mass marketing for a television show. Majority of the players prefer using the digital medium to market their programmes than traditional means.

Is having broadcast content and web series a viable option for OTT players?

According to Maheshwari, “If we are talking from a broadcasters’ point of view, then the reason they got into digital is because eyeballs are moving to digital from television. Viewing habits are changing to ‘I want to watch it at my own time.’ Original content on the other hand is being produced for audiences that are younger, audiences expecting a degree of realism, a degree of high-level quality content they cannot find on television. They are for two very different mind states. There is a market for both; hence it is a viable option.”

Sodhi and Shergill too believe that it is a viable option. With broadcast content on their respective platforms, they are catering to more audiences and not just restricting themselves to the newer ones.

Tags: Web series
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